‘Outlander’: Could The Starz Drama Be Cable’s Next Global Hit?

Outlander (FT)

In a little over two months, US premium cable network Starz will debut their new “epic” Outlander.

The drama is based on the novel series by Diana Gabaldon and tells the story of Claire Randall, a combat nurse from World War 2 who suddenly “falls through time” and finds herself in 1743. The cast lined up for Outlander includes, amongst others, Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan.

A television adaptation has taken years to come to fruition and now that it has, under the stewardship of veteran producer Ronald D. Moore, there is a strong chance that Outlander will, as Sony Pictures Television’s execs expect, go global.

The drama received strong marks from international buyers at the LA Screenings last month and it has already started racking up sales, with Australia’s Foxtel having already acquired Outlander from Sony earlier this year. There have also been persistent rumours that a UK deal is close to being finalised.

So what is it about Outlander that is driving the series’ chances of going global? TVWise takes a look at the 5 key factors.

16 Episode Commitment

It’s a rarity that cable series’, be they basic cable or premium cable, go global – especially during their first season. Most will do OK sales in key markets, but locking down sales in 120+ territories is a hard task to accomplish. A key reason for that is that cable series, especially from a premium cable network like Starz, tend to top out at 10 episode per season, with 8 being the standard order for a first season (just as it was for Da Vinci’s Demons and the about-to-premiere Power). International buyers tend to prefer the larger orders of network series (20+ episodes) for their schedules, and as such some cable series have a hard time internationally until their second or third seasons (exceptions to this include CBS’ Under The Dome, which despite a cable size order did well, thanks, in no small part, to having Stephen King’s name attached). The size of the order for Outlander, falling somewhere in-between at 16 episodes, is rather appealing to buyers, especially as its size signifies Starz’s confidence in the show.

Built In Audience

Thanks to the source material, there already exists a rather dedicated fan base for the series. Adaptations can be difficult, but with recent assurances that Starz’s Outlander is a “faithful adaptation”, with input from author Diana Gabaldon, those fans are expected to turn up in droves when the show starts, both on Starz and across the world. While this isn’t likely to be a deciding factor, it is most certainly in play, especially when you consider that the fan campaign to bring Outlander to a global audience was mentioned to international buyers at the Sony Screenings in Los Angeles last month. That fan campaign has trended on Twitter several times, using the hash tag “#WorldwideTVNeedsOutlander”, and clearly hasn’t gone unnoticed. Could that large fan base, which is effectively a “built in audience”, equate to strong ratings in territories around the world? Hard to say, but its definitely a factor here.

Ronald D. Moore

In recent years, especially on the international market, Ronald D. Moore’s name has driven interest in the same way that the names Jerry Bruckheimer and Chuck Lorre do. Moore’s credits include numerous Star Trek series’ and films, but to date his best known work is the re-tooled Battlestar Galactica he produced for NBCU’s Syfy channel, which was one of the first of cable’s scripted series to go global. Ronald D. Moore’s most recent project was the Syfy series Helix, which has racked up strong sales for Sony Pictures Television’s distribution arm. Having a veteran producer like Moore attached to the project is certainly helping to drive interest internationally.

“Well Rounded Pilot”

As noted above, Sony Pictures Television screened the opening episode of Outlander to content buyers from across the world at the screenings in Los Angeles last month. Outlander was very well received, with buyers saying it was a “well rounded pilot”, “fantastic” and with an “amazing cast”. The fact that Sony was talking to partners in key territories, such as Australia, Germany and the UK, before the screenings also helped drive interest from buyers – who almost universally liked the concept. Admittedly, the fact that the opening episode (technically not a pilot) was well received by buyers in Los Angeles is a major factor in Outlander‘s chances of going global.

Strong Cast

There are a fair number of boxes that need to be ticked for international buyers to really bite into a new series. Auspices and the concept are important, but so is the cast. In the case of Outlander that cast has been called “amazing”. The casting of Caitriona Balfe has been called “inspired”, with Diana Gabaldon herslef stating “She and Sam Heughan absolutely lit up the screen with fireworks.” The two leads (Balfe and Sam Heughan) have a strong fan following, as do several other regulars such as Tobias Menzies and Graham McTavish, which once again feeds back into that notion of a “built in audience”. Outlander seems to be ticking all the boxes and out of this year’s new cable entries, with perhaps the exception of Better Call Saul, has the best shot at going global.